The Dua Zahra case should be a wakeup call for Pakistani parents to learn to be more loving and kind to their daughters

Mahnoor Jalal

Mahnoor Jalal


The Dua Zahra kidnapping case revealed another shocking discovery a few days ago when the victim confessed that she had chosen to run away from the house and get married of her own choice because she felt constrained by the abusive environment in her home. Like the way Pakistanis feel we are entitled to judge a person before hearing them out, everyone quickly jumped to shaming a woman once more for making a bold choice whether it is getting a divorce, wearing jeans, or in this case, running away from her home. Social media users were quick to brand her as “awaragard” and expressed shock over the fact that how a girl could dishonor her parents and her family by committing such an act.

But instead of quickly jumping to blame a woman for a crime, when have we reflected on the how collectively as a society we have failed women by time and time again imposing ridiculous expectations on them, and the way we police their bodies and voices to an extent that would have forced a woman like Dua to make such a drastic decision. Before we can blame women for choosing to run away from their homes, let’s not forget that in a society that is deeply women-hating like ours, we’ve never taught our women to express their independence or desires.

At the home, our families will distribute sweets and hold celebrations when a boy is born, but when it is a girl, desi relatives will express disappointment and encourage the couple to keep trying again. When these babies transition into girlhood, body shaming and moral policing begin because we put women on a pedestal by viewing them as vessels that hold the honor of the family. So, in this way, they learn that they aren’t independent beings but only reflections of how other people see them. And then when these girls turn into women, they have to encounter the toxic rishta culture that tells them that they must trim down their weight, and their dreams and sacrifice their connection to their parents or previous life to become a wife or a mother. And this misogyny isn’t just centered within the family but also keeps showing up in the way our institutions function. Our media and other entertainment channels refuse to progress from championing sexist dramas that center around women being abused and yet forgiving toxic in-laws. Or the legal system that has time and time again refused to offer protection and justice to women who seek to hold harassers accountable, or even victims of domestic violence or abuse at the hands of in-laws.

In a culture where misogyny is so deeply rooted within institutions that refuse to protect women, it comes as no surprise that women resort to such means to even escape their homes for a chance to leave abusive environments. This is why actress Urwa Hocane has pleaded, let’s stop focusing on policing our daughters and focus on how deeply flawed parenting skills in Pakistan have become, with very little guidance extended to parents to treat their daughters with empathy and understanding.

Women on Twitter also began a conversation on how there has been no discussion on poor parenting skills in Pakistan and how they foster abusive environments and cause women to take extreme choices to run away. More women were expressing sympathy with Dua and sharing instances of facing body shaming and strict environments which deprived them of the same privileges that men were granted, and in turn how it lead to causing these women to suffer from depression and low self-esteem when they became adults. Twitter user Amna Khan began the conversation by discussing how the concept of women storing the honor of the family in their bodies is so toxic because it puts them in a constrained environment where even a slight conversation with a man could lead to severe punishment

This prompted other women to come forward and share recollections of childhood memories where their privacy was invaded, or based on assumptions that they were talking to men, their phones were taken away and they were grounded by their parents.

If we wish to start a discussion about how to stop women from running away from home, what should be focused on is how to dismantle the toxic concept of honor being the responsibility of the women in the family, and start holding the men in our family accountable for their actions. Rather than resorting to shaming the victim, we should reflect on the toxic parenting skills we have come to normalize, and start encouraging them to treat their daughters with empathy and love. If we keep subjecting them to a strict environment where their phones are taken away and boys are allowed to remain in the streets until midnight, we won’t be able to remind our daughters that their independence and ambition are respected, and they are in a space where they are safe.